Tilda Swinton in racism row after being cast as Asian character



TILDA Swinton is at the centre of a racism row after being cast as an Asian character in a new Hollywood blockbuster.

The Oscar-winning actress, 55, plays the Ancient One in Marvel’s Doctor Strange, which also stars Benedict Cumberbatch.

The character is a Tibetan High Lama who mentors the surgeon turned sorcerer in the movie, which was shot in Nepal and is due for release in November.

But critics have accused the American studio of “whitewashing” the Ancient One’s race out of the plot.

It comes after the director of Gerard Butler’s Gods of Egypt apologised for a lack of racial diversity among the cast. And Janette Tough, better known as Wee Jimmy Krankie, found herself at the centre of a storm last month after images emerged of her dressed as a Japanese fashion designer for the upcoming film of Absolutely Fabulous.

Speaking about Swinton’s role, Marvel Studios’s president Kevin Feige explained how the Ancient One went from a powerful Asian mystic to an androgynous white woman.

“We’re never afraid to change,” he said. “We are always looking for ways to change. I think if you look at some of the early incarnations of the Ancient One in the comics, they are what we would consider today to be quite, sort of, stereotypical.

“They don’t hold up to what would work today. Also, within the storyline of the comics, and our movie, ‘the Ancient One’ is a title that many people have had.

“We hit very early on on, What if the Ancient One was a woman? What if the title had been passed and the current Ancient One is a woman?

“Oh, that’s an interesting idea. Tilda Swinton! Whoah! And it just hit.”


He added: “She [Swinton] is a chameleon in everything she does. She has this amazing [ability to] harness of this androgynous sense. So, we use the term ‘her’ and ‘she’ in the film but, other than that, it’s very androgynous. Because it doesn’t matter.”

However, critics have criticised the decision to change the role.

Donna Dickens, of hitflix.com, wrote: “The choice is particularly jarring.
“To say the only way to remove the stereotype of ‘otherness’ from the Ancient One is to make him white is just whitewashing under the guise of progressiveness, that actors of Asian descent are inherently ‘othered’ regardless of how a role is written.

“Casting Swinton in the role also opens the floodgates of appropriation. Doctor Strange will still be travelling to Asia after his accident to gain his powers.

“But now instead of at least a tentative link to Tibetan culture — you’ve got a white woman teaching a white man the secret mysteries of an Asian culture. That’s … not okay.”

Colin Fredericson, of Inquisitr.com, added: “It’s not the first time Marvel Studios didn’t keep an Asian character in a role designed for one, as Iron Man 3‘s Mandarin shows, but Tilda Swinton’s casting also tips the scales in a bolder, gender-switched direction for Marvel’s on screen efforts.”

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Last month Korean actress Margaret Cho accused the makers of Absolutely Fabulous of “yellowface” – the practice of using white actors in Asia roles – after Ms Tough was hired to appear as the comedy character Huki Muki alongside Jennifer Saunders and Joanna Lumley.

Ms Cho, who starred in the film Face/Off with John Travolta and Nicolas Cage, branded the decision to cast a western actor in the role “unacceptable”.

Liberals give priority to Syrian refugees while others have to wait


While the Liberal government is trying to fulfil its pre-election promise of bringing 25,000 Syrian refugees to Canada by the end of February 2016 by “moving heaven and earth”, it appears that there are approximately 6,500 refugees from other countries who are being forced to wait until the Liberals meet their target of resettling the Syrian refugees.

During a briefing on the resettlement plan in Ottawa on December 16, McCallum announced that the Liberals are increasing capacity for expedited processing of Syrians in Jordan, Turkey and Lebanon. According to McCallum, in order to screen 10,000 Syrians by December 31 – a target they ultimately missed by about 4,000 refugees – a force of 500 government employees is working around the clock to keep up with the quota of screening 800 people a day (up from an average 600 people a week).

The resources that the Liberals diverted to the Syrian refugees have a direct impact on refugees from other countries who have been stuck in queue for years.

On November 15, 2015, CBC reported that Tom Denton, executive director of the Hospitality House Refugee Ministry in Winnipeg, said that “something has to give” by the government prioritizing 25,000 Syrian refugees over all others. Denton says his organization has heard from Citizenship and Immigration Canada’s Central Processing Office in Winnipeg that they are currently giving priority to Syrian applications, followed by Iraqi applications, and only then to the others. Canadian Council for Refugees sent a letter to McCallum urging the government not to forget refugees in other parts of the world.

Guidy Mamann, a prominent Toronto-based immigration lawyer with over 30 years of expertise in immigration law, told CIJnews that thousands of refugees who have been privately sponsored to come to Canada by their families are now being pushed to the back of the line because in a rush to fulfil their election promise, the Liberals did not create any new resources but merely redirected the existing staff from processing the existing refugee claimants in order to to deal with the Syrian applications.

Mamann said that the Syrian refugee program impacts not just other refugees but all categories of immigrants such as skilled workers or those who fall under a family reunification program, because officers who would have otherwise been working on their applications have now been deployed to Lebanon and Jordan to hastily process Syrian refugees in order to meet the new February deadline. This means that existing refugee claimants, sponsored family members and skilled workers will have to wait until the Syrian refugees have been processed.

Also according to Mamann, not enough Syrians are interested in coming to Canada, and certainly far fewer than the 25,000 which Trudeau originally pledged to bring to Canada by December 31. In spite of reducing the number 10,000, they still missed the target and managed to bring only 6,064 since November 4, 2015.

An article in the Globe and Mail titled: “Why some Syrian refugees decline Canada’s resettlement offer” reinforces Mamann’s view. In the article, Syrians who said “no” to Canada’s generous offer of resettlement, cited various reasons for their refusal, ranging from their preference “to be among Arabs like us than to wade into a new and uncertain culture” to “people said the government of Canada would only care for us for one month, and then they would leave us.”

It would appear that Syrians are waiting for the best resettlement offer – in Europe or elsewhere. “That is not a refugee”, says Mamann. “Canadians believed that we are going into a war zone and pick people who are in danger of being persecuted, but we we are not. We have no personnel on the ground, no armed forces and no Embassy. We are not picking up the most vulnerable and persecuted people such as the Yezidis”.

Mamann says Trudeau’s approach to the Syrian refugees was flawed from the start. “First of all, how do you stick to the election promise of bringing 25,000 people in such a short period of time? How do you choose 25,000 out of millions of displaced persons? What is the criteria?”

Mamann also wants Canadians to understand that this is not a refugee rescue program but rather a refugee resettlement program. Syrians who are being airlifted to Canada are not coming from a war zone. They are coming from the relative safety of Jordan and Lebanon and are not in any immediate danger. If they were, they would be rushing to accept Canada’s generous offer, which includes housing, extended health benefits, free furniture, free cell phones, free theatre tickets and much more.

Another important point Mamann made is the Syrians who are coming here were are not a new batch of refugees but rather those who were already selected for resettlement by the previous Harper government and were waiting for their turn to be processed. Trudeau is simply putting them ahead of the line to the dismay of refugees from other countries who are being overshadowed by the massive and relentless publicity campaign by the Liberals and mainstream media. To drum up public support for a program which most critics called unrealistic, irresponsible and rushed, the Liberal government spent $535,000 on nationwide marketing campaign which describes the Canadian way as one of the “open hearts and welcoming communities”. It also launched a campaign using the hashtag #WelcomeRefugees in order to encourage Canadians to donate, volunteer and sponsor Syrian refugees.

On December 2, 2015, Thethunderbird.ca published an article about the plight of Eritrean refugees who have been ignored by Canada while all eyes are on Syria. Daniel Tseghay said that the Liberal government’s $1.2 billion plan to expedite Syrian refugees highlights the attention to some refugees while forgetting other international crises. “There obviously is some structure that privileges certain migrants over others and unfortunately, African migrants are at the very bottom of the hierarchy.”

On November 12, 2015, Larry Miller, MP for Bruce-Grey-Owen Sound, published an open letter to the editor in which he slammed the Liberals for a “politically motivated policy based on an irresponsible campaign announcement”. Miller reminded the Liberals that on average, Canada takes in about 7,500 refugees each year or roughly 144 a week. What the Liberal government is proposing would result in approximately 3,570 refugees entering Canada per week for the next seven weeks. This target is causing concern from the Canadian Council for Refugees because the capacity of non-governmental organizations to aid refugees once they enter Canada will be “strained to breaking”.

Miller accused the Liberals for getting caught up in the “buzz” of the election by making promises that are politically motivated but are not practically responsible and questioned McCallum’s announcement that the government will be doing “whatever works” to bring 25,000 refugees to Canada in a span of a few short weeks, in spite of concerns raised by immigration experts that the plan is rushed and could jeopardize a responsible intake of refugees.

Miller also objected to the refugees receiving healthcare that is “above and beyond what Canadians receive”, referring to the Liberals’ promise to restore supplemental health benefits – including dental and vision care – which the Conservative government clawed back in 2012 to put them in line with what is provided to Canadians.

“I am disappointed that the Prime Minister is giving in to political pressure from his flawed campaign announcement rather than developing a responsible plan based on consultation with the military, non-governmental refugee associations, and the government departments involved. Instead he has opted for a politically-based plan developed by 9 cabinet ministers in a back-room in Ottawa” said Miller.

Shiite – Sunni rift in the Middle East imported to Canada



The fragile relations between the two regional bitter rival Islamic states, Shiite Iran and Sunni-Wahabi Saudi Arabia, rapidly deteriorated following the execution on Saturday, December 2, of the prominent Shia cleric Sheikh Nimr al-Nimr along with other 46 people convicted of terror-related offenses.

Iranian mob stormed the Saudi embassy in Tehran and set fire in its premises before being dispersed by Police. Iran’s spiritual leader, Ayatollah Khamenei, warned Saudi Arabia of a revenge. “[The] unfairly-spilled blood of oppressed martyr #SheikhNimr will affect rapidly & Divine revenge will seize Saudi politicians,” Khamenei tweeted.

The Shiite – Sunni tensions has been already being translated into resumed protests in the City of Qatif, located in the Eastern Province of Saudi Arabia, a predominately Shiite area rich of oil. The leadership of Qatif’s Shiite population, backed by Iran, regards the Saudi regime as “oppressive” and “illegitimate”.

The shock waves of the rift between the two major denominations of Islam are also felt in Canada. A senior Sunni Muslim Canadian, affiliated with the Muslim Brotherhood, stated on January 1, 2016:

“Shiite Iran sees the Sunnis as the enemies of the [Islamic] nation. Iran has rebels who defend its principles in Yemen, Syria, Lebanon. The geographic territory of Iran has become bigger than you can imagine. That is what the commander of the [Iranian] Army of the Guardians of the Islamic Revolution has said.

“O Muslims, wake up! The Sasanian [Persian Empire], the Safavid [Persian Shiite Empire] , the Persians are coming. Your women will become [sex] slaves and will be sent to the slave market in [the City of] Qom. This is the way thinking of the Rejectionists [Shiites], those who practice the temporary marriage [an Shiite Islamic practice that unites man and woman as husband and wife for a limited time] and their course of action.”

On December 19, 2015, Canadian Shiite Muslims demonstrated at Dundas Square to protest the arrest of Ibrahim Yaqoub El Zakzaky, a Leader of the Islamic Movement in Nigeria, by the local authorities. The protesters also bashed Saudi Arabia for its support of the Nigerian government.

Ali Mallah (علي ملاح), a Toronto Shiite community leader and a former Vice-President of the Canadian Arab Federation, said in his speech during the protest: “We condemn Saudi Arabia, the biggest terrorist of the world, because Saudi Arabia is the mother of every single terrorist groups everywhere in this world.”

In 2012 the Islamic sectarian violence between Shiite Muslims and Sunni Muslims in the Middle East came also to Canada. A 17 year old man was stabbed in March that year by pro- Assad operatives after attending a demonstration in support of the Syrian Sunni rebels.

Seven months later the Syrian Canadian Council reported that a Montreal businessman who helped the rebels was shot in his shoulder in an attempted assassination.

The mounting sectarian tension prompted the Sunni and Shiite leadership of North America to initiate a meeting to discuss the implications of the escalating conflict in the Middle East and ways to prevent its spill-over to USA and Canada.

Sayed Muhammad Rizvi, the Imam of the Islamic Shia Ithna Asheri Jamaat of Toronto, revealed in his Friday sermon (September 6, 2013), some details on the understandings reached in this meeting, which also shows the grave concerns of potential violence between the groups.

Here is an excerpt of Rizvi’s sermon:

During the weekend, on Sunday of the last week [September 1, 2013], we witnessed an historical step taken by some Shiite scholars (علماء) and some prominent Sunni leaders in Washington, where they were having their own convention, and the Council of Shia scholars (علماء), where having their own convention and annual meeting in the suburbs of Washington, where the two group were able to come to terms and agreement on condemning sectarian violence, which can be seen almost everywhere in the Muslim world and that also lead to formation of a committee consisting of three Shia scholars (علماء) and three Sunni scholars, who will be in touch with one another when common issues come up.”

So, it’s not just a onetime declaration signed by both groups, rather it is an ongoing committee which has been formed and God Willing (ان شاء الله) that will help at least to take away the silence that we see from the leadership of both sides.”

“At least it is not visible, it is not loud enough for the communities to know that when it comes to sectarian violence it is not acceptable. We have differences and we cannot deny that. We will not be sitting there to talk about it if we all same.”

We talk about interfaith dialogue and discussions all the time, we promote it. Why not intrafaith within. We go out of our way to have dialogue with the People of the Book [Christians and Jews اهل الكتاب], why not to have dialogue with the People of the Koran [Muslims اهل القران].”

In spite of the differences in matters of faith [عقيدة] and the way we do things, we can maintain our identity, our faith [عقيدة], our ways of doing things and we can also disagree on many issues, but we can do that politely and wisely without using abusive language and labeling one another as an apostate [كافر].